Willie Rennie’s speech to Federal Conference: Lib Dems stand for the majority of Scots

Willie Rennie made a keynote speech to Liberal Democrat Conference on Tuesday. It was the best speech I have ever heard him make. A very clear statement of why the Lib Dems stand up for the majority of Scotland’s people – along with some literary advice for David Cameron. Jenni Lang’s introduction is worth watching too for a wee secret.

It’s becoming a tradition to spill some beans about Willie when introducing him for a speech. Borders candidate Jenny Marr told Scottish Conference how he’d turned up to a Wintry canvassing session in Aberdeenshire wearing pyjamas underneath his clothes to keep warm.


The text is below:

What an amazing week we have had.

Hearing about our 700 council gains

15 European gains

Chuka, Sarah, Angela, Philip, Luciana and Sam joining from the Conservatives and Labour.

The Brecon win for the wonderful Jane Dodds against the Conservatives.

It’s happening in Scotland too.

Councillor Fiona Dryburgh left Labour to join us.

And Councillor Mark McGeever left the Conservatives to join us.

And there will be more to come.

And in Shetland we won for the steely Beatrice Wishart.

Against the SNP who threw absolutely everything at it, the kitchen sink, the whole worktop and the toaster too.

And we won.

Up and winning in by-elections across the country.

Yes, you can’t quite believe it.

But we are on the up and you better get used to it.

Because there is more, so much more, to come.

Talented, energetic, empathetic, clear thinking, intelligent and most of all downright determined.

Isn’t that the character of someone who would lead our country so well?

What a refreshing change it would make.

In the midst of a national crisis, Jo Swinson is rising up.

It’s time for the old to make way for the new.

When you look at Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, the answer has to be Jo Swinson.

So Boris and Jeremy watch out, Jo is on the march.

We must stop a no deal Brexit, but we must stop Brexit. Full stop.

We have stood firm throughout.

We knew straight away that we would need to escape this looming chaos.

And we were right.

The value of the pound has plummeted.

The cost of imports is up.

Prices are up.

The cost of your family holiday is up.

The economy sluggish.

Business investment cut.

Laughed at by the world.

We’ve already faced the price of Brexit and it’s not even happened yet.

And David Cameron.

You imposed the divisions of your party on our country.

You arrogantly believed you could win anything.

You walked away when it got tough and hid in your shed.

And you have humiliated our nation.

David Cameron.

You have a lot to answer for.

You should have called your book “Honey, I shrunk the country”.

And now we have the current Prime Minister Boris Johnson held hostage – a prisoner – of Nigel Farage.

We see what they are doing.

From a “one in a million chance” one day to “touch and go” the next.

They are doubling down for No Deal.

They are expelling their moderates.

But in Scotland no Conservative MPs have been harmed in the making of this dogma.

Not one has rebelled.

It’s not good enough.

They aren’t standing up for the centre ground values that got them elected.

They aren’t speaking up against their right-wing No Deal government.

Scottish Conservatives, you have to stand up and be counted like Amber Rudd, or forever be condemned as a waste of Scottish space.

I am proud to stand up for our party.

You know I like to get out and about.

I like to have a bit of fun.

No amorous pigs or boisterous rams this year.

Just a bit of water skiing.

Which I have to say I thought I was quite good at.

I was “riding a wave of support” as the press release drily put it.

Actually you just grasp firmly with both hands and hang on for dear life.

The following week that tactic did mean I wasn’t so good at picking strawberries.

This summer I wanted to find out for myself about life on the fruit farms of East Fife.

So to East Grangemuir Farm near Pittenweem I went.

To pick strawberries.

The farm has invested in itself.

The aim is to play its part towards doubling the value of the food and drink sector by 2030.

They have a heated poly-tunnel, powered from biomass.

No longer a six-week season, they pick from spring to late autumn.

They supply top quality strawberries to supermarkets across the United Kingdom.

And the workers to pick the berries travel from as far afield as Romania and Ukraine.

But since Brexit the farm has battled to get enough workers.

The fall in the value of the pound has slashed their wages.

The farm needs more workers to match it plans for growth, but the government has choked off the supply.

They asked for twenty and got just eight.

These workers are contributing to the growth of a great Scottish business.

Immigration is good for the heart and the well-being of our country.

Immigration means workers, means business.

The Conservative Government are not just anti-immigration; they are anti-business too.

That is why Liberal Democrats stood firm. We are pro-immigration and pro-business.

We said stop Brexit.

Unpopular at first, but we believed that to be right so we stuck to what we believed.

Now we have a million people marching for Europe on the streets of London.

Six million signing a petition to revoke article 50.

Protests and marches to stop Brexit in every corner of the country.

The United Kingdom is more strongly pro-European than it has ever been.

And it is the Liberal Democrats who speak for those millions of people who voted Remain and want to stop Brexit.

If you have had enough of Brexit.

If you want to make it stop.

If you want to stop Boris Johnson.

If you want to stand up for good relations with our neighbours.

Only the Liberal Democrats speak for you.

Back Jo Swinson, back the Liberal Democrats, Stop Brexit.

We are a movement of hope that can win across the United Kingdom.

My message to those Remainers in Scotland thinking of backing independence is simple.

There is another way.


Have hope.

We can keep Scotland in the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom in Europe.

We don’t need or want independence.

Some think independence would allow us to escape Brexit.

But it will simply add to our woes. All the chaos of Brexit multiplied, and multiplied again.

We need to learn the lessons of Brexit, not repeat the mistakes.

Our ties with Europe are deep and valuable.

Our ties in the UK are even deeper and even more valuable.

Cutting those ties with Europe after 40 years is torture.

We should only imagine the pain of breaking 300-year-old ties.

And it would be the vulnerable who would suffer most, just like Brexit.

So don’t cut and run.

Don’t snatch for independence.

There is hope.

The momentum to Stop Brexit is growing.

We can do this.

So those people – and more – can rely on the Liberal Democrats to speak for them.

We are the only party in Scotland to stand up for the majority of people in Scotland.

We are pro UK.

We are pro EU.

We are progressive.

Scotland should come with us and win that tussle for the soul of these islands.

Be part of the change.

Be part of stopping Brexit.

Be part of the winning team.

You can’t rely on the SNP. They pursue independence, no matter the cost.

You can’t rely on the Conservatives. They pursue Brexit, no matter the cost.

You can’t rely on Labour. They are pursuing something, but who on earth knows what it is?

The latest Labour position on Brexit is glorious.

They opposed a referendum. Then supported a referendum.

Opposed remain on the ballot. Now support remain on the ballot.

They will oppose Brexit. And will deliver Brexit.

They oppose Nigel Farage and support Nigel Farage.

They oppose Theresa May’s deal, now support Theresa May’s deal.

This is a tussle for the soul of the United Kingdom and Jeremy Corbyn is on the wrong side.

Labour under Jeremy Corbyn has betrayed his party’s internationalist and pro-European tradition.

Tangled up in a spaghetti of process. So confused. So sad.

At this time of national crisis this is not an opposition, it’s an embarrassment.

And it does not get much better for Labour in Scotland.

I’ve been Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats for more than eight years.

I know. It’s hard to believe. I look so fresh.

In my eight years as Leader I’ve seen five leaders of the Scottish Labour Party.

And they change their positions as often as they change their leaders.

We stood side by side against independence in 2014.

Now they will support another independence referendum to buy off the SNP in return for the keys to Downing Street.

And on Brexit the Scottish Labour Party is for Remain – this week.

But they know that Jeremy Corbyn would negotiate to Leave next week.

Labour were once the dominant force in Scotland but they are now an empty shell.

And Labour voters in Scotland should not stand for it.

In the eight years I have led our Scottish party we have achieved for our country.

We campaigned and badgered the Scottish Government to take extra steps on early years childcare and on mental health.

We got them to bring in a pupil premium and free school meals.

We have been the strong liberal voice on the age of criminal responsibility and gender recognition, even when the SNP have lined up with the conservative mindset.

We worked across parties to increase the powers of the Scottish Parliament as steps on the way to a more federal country.

And we have challenged the SNP when they have tried to impose centralisation on our police and cut the links between the police and the community.

That is the difference the Liberal Democrats make.

People can’t depend on the SNP.

They have taken their eye off the ball on Scottish public services to focus on independence.

I know it sometimes looks like life is good in the Scottish Government.

But things aren’t always what they seem.

They start with the comical.

The First Minister went to launch a new ferry.

It was months late and they didn’t have the heart to tell her.

So they actually painted windows onto the metal so it looked like it was finished as it slid down the slipway.

But they also get serious.

They delayed their mental health strategy for 15 months, meaning tens of millions of pounds was left unspent on new staff.

And they wonder why waiting times for young people can still be heartbreakingly more than a year, with targets missed the length and breadth of Scotland.

Education slips down the international rankings, and SNP ministers try to impose Thatcherite national tests on five-year-olds, and are amazed when it doesn’t work.

No wonder teachers are furious.

They’ve a sick kids’ hospital with no sick kids, and no public inquiry about its three-year delay.

There are trains with no carriages and no staff.

Buses with no passengers.

A nursery expansion that actually closes nurseries.

An energy company with no customers.

And a nationalised airport at Prestwick whose main business turns out to be the United States military who stop-over to use Donald Trump’s hotel at Turnberry.

And, despite the climate emergency, they still support a third runway at Heathrow.

With the chaotic performance of the Conservative Government at Westminster, the SNP have evaded the spotlight of scrutiny.

But that will change.

We are watching you and we are not impressed.

And I tell you this.

Our positive programme; all the things we want to do for education and mental health;

investing in people so they can be all they can be;

standing up for liberties;

this can’t be left to the SNP.

Even when they take our ideas they tend to make a mess of them.

No, this needs Liberal Democrats.

It needs Liberal Democrats to grow stronger still and keep on winning. And to talk about winning.

And that is my positive, hopeful message to you today.

We should be hopeful, forward-looking and excited.

The Scotland and the Britain we can win does not have to be a dismal choice;

between going back to the unfair country of the past;

or else on to the divided future the nationalists would like.

At our heart we want every individual to achieve their potential;

a country where everyone has a share and a stake in our success.

There is so much we can achieve in our beautiful and diverse country;

a force for good in Europe and in the world.

Invest in people through education and mental health;

Protect us all from the climate emergency;

Stand up to those who would limit our freedoms.

And we now have the moment.

We have the people – many more people;

We have the big ideas;

We have things to say that people want to hear

And we have the leader who can answer the cry,

from people across our country,

as they demand better.

We are winning.

We are growing.

Our best is still to come.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in News.


  • Steve Comer 24th Sep '19 - 8:44am

    Reality check needed methinks! Look at the election results over the last 25 years,
    Highest votes for Scottish Lib Dems – 22.6% (2005 GE) 12% (2001 & 2003 Scottish Parl.)
    Lowest votes for Scottish Lib Dems – 6.8% (2017 GE) 5.2% (2011 & 2016 Scottish Parl.)

    So the claim that “We are the only party in Scotland to stand up for the majority of people in Scotland” rings a little hollow. Could it be that the shift from emphasising the long and proud record of support for home rule, towards ‘met too’ arch Unionism is the problem.

  • Bill le Breton 24th Sep '19 - 9:09am

    Steve – precisely expressed.
    My cruder description is that ‘north of the border, we have been playing the man and not the ball’ perhaps for as long as there has been a Scottish Parliament – perhaps that is not a coincidence.
    It is going to cause a series of huge problems in the next Parliament.

  • Well, at least now this party can claim there is no conflict in arguing against another Scottish refendum and for another EU one.
    Now it wants neither

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